Labor’s silver lining

Labor’s silver lining

Incoming Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma and Migrant Workers Sec Toots Ople

We see some comforting prospects in the announcement by incoming Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma that he would “make a pitch” to encourage more Filipino workers to stay in the Philippines instead of seeking employment abroad under the administration of presumptive President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

While salaries may indeed be more competitive in other countries, the “separation of family, too much dependence on foreign remittance, spending more than what you are actually earning and not saving for the future” are among issues that have been concomitant to overseas employment.

Listen to him, in that interview on ANC’s Headstart: “I will make my pitch on local employment because while I see foreign employment as providing us needed foreign remittances, I also look at the social costs that go with it.”

“My mission should be able to promote and create… more employment opportunities so that our workers will have the option really of choosing if they are staying with their families, maybe not with very lucrative salaries, but enjoying and watching the growing up of their children.”

Another blue sky on the labor front is the confirmation by former labor undersecretary and overseas Filipino worker advocate Susan “Toots” Ople that she had accepted the 64-year-old Marcos’ offer to head the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

What got our goat was when she was asked by supposedly someone from mainstream media if she did not have a rethink accepting Marcos’ offer, given the history of Marcos’ family, whatever the reporter meant.

The reporter, like other persons in the reporter’s mold of cognitive faculty, should have a refresher course in the art of interviewing.

Anyway, Ople, daughter of Blas Ople, the labor secretary during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, said she met up with Marcos and incoming Labor Secretary Laguesma on Monday.

“I’m coming in more so as a specialist in my field and also perhaps as someone who has a father for her idol throughout her life and would like to do justice to the legacy he left behind,” Ople told ANC’s Headstart.

We heard her say, pretty much firmly, “I want to change the narrative of the OFW. Right now they haven’t left and they’re already thought of as a welfare case. I would like them to leave as dignified as possible. It’s an informed choice, not a rash decision. It’s an informed choice to make with the family.”

Ople, expected to consult with stakeholders in the next six months, narrated that two years ago she had breast cancer – and informed Marcos as well as the latter’s spokesman, lawyer Vic Rodriguez who has been tapped to be the next Executive Secretary.

She added: “What weighed also on my mind was what Fr. Jerry Orbos said, he would say especially to his cancer-mates – he said the rest of your life, the best of your life.”

“I think I’m at that point where I want to give the best in me for the sector I have loved all these years.”

Ople, who is expected to consult with stakeholders in the next six months, was among congressional resource persons who pushed for the creation of the DMW in the 18th Congress, saying having several agencies handle OFW issues has caused red tape.

“The reason why we are pushed as the stakeholders for the DMW is to unify all actions, all decisions, all policies related to our OFWs,” she said in a congressional hearing in April 2022.

The incoming DMW chief said: “I want to have a co-creation phase with our stakeholders. Second, I want to review the systems in place. Why is it difficult for good employers to get Filipinos in the same way that bad employers–sometimes they have an easier time getting workers.

“We also need a performance review. Those who have made it a business to receive gifts. I have to lead by example just like my dad did… I’ve been telling people, to watch my back. That’s my prayer really – not to lose my moral compass.”

Since Blas Ople’s death, Toots Ople founded and headed the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (Ople Center), a non-profit organization that focuses on upholding migrant workers’ rights and welfare.

Ople, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas and the Harvard Kennedy School, was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, the first Filipino to hold the post.

For his part, Laguesma said he was keen on turning Marcos Jr’s “Bayan Babangon Muli” – the campaign slogan was “sama-sama tayong babangon muli” – into a “framework of governance” for the Department of Labor and Employment.

In 2020, the number of OFWs was pegged at 1.77 million, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, lower than the 2.18 million migrant workers reported in 2019.

Laguesma still has to publicly announce his crafted solutions to entice more Filipinos to work

in the Philippines, and how to provide jobs for the OFWs displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said he would coordinate closely with the Department of Migrant Workers – expected to be operational in 2023 – and hold a series of discussions with stakeholders to find solutions to labor issues that are acceptable for both workers and employers.

“DOLE is principally not a job creation organization. Our contribution would be making things simpler for workers and employers to accomplish, we’d like to deliver services promptly and correctly,”

said Laguesma, whose career in the agency spanned five presidencies.

“I want to see the department will have an image of being responsive. It may lack resources, but the services are there. Workers and employers are not feeling left out or snubbed, unheard… That will also mean ease of doing business,” Laguesma said.

He is correct in saying “We are contributory to a friendly environment that will encourage existing investors to invest more and probably attract other investors.”

Break in the clouds indeed. (ai/mtvn)

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